Australian desalination plant closure postponed for three months

State-owned utility South Australia Water (SAW) has reversed a decision to close Adelaide’s A$ 1.8 billion (US$ 1.5 billion) desalination plant to carry out an “optimisation study” requiring the facility to operate at low output despite ample fresh water reserves.

SAW operations and maintenance general manager Mark Gobbie said the three-month study would give an “indication of the best long-term operating scenario for the plant”.

The government has pledged the cost of the testing would not be passed on to customers. “The money will come from existing SAW finances. It won’t come from increased water bills for SA Water consumers,” according to acting water minister Leon Bignell.

Bignell said the plant’s value would become obvious when drought conditions “inevitably returned”.
The plant, at Port Stanvac, south of Adelaide, will be run at 10% output producing 30 Ml/d at a cost of almost $1 million. “By the end of March, we’ll know what the longer term future for the desal plant is,” Gobbie said.

Adelaide’s water demands are being met fully by SA Water reservoirs and River Murray allocations.The plant, completed in 2012, has produced about 30% of Adelaide’s water requirements during a two-year trial period drawing water from the Gulf of Saint Vincent. “Some residual defects have been fixed over the last few months and operating the plant will give us a chance to ensure those defects have been rectified to our satisfaction,” Gobbie said.

Opposition water spokeswoman Michelle Lensink described the three-month study as an “expensive experiment”. She added: “They have been running it at different levels to make those sorts of decisions, and for it to be continuing in this way as an experiment that all South Australian householders have to pay for, really is quite incredible.”

She said the plant, which can meet half of Adelaide’s drinking water demand should have been half its size. Lensink said the time and money would be better spent looking at dry regional communities. “In Ceduna, for instance, they’d love to have a desalination plant. But the opportunities aren’t being provided by the Government,” she said.